Riders & Advocates, In Honor of Rosa Parks & Transit Equity Week, Call for Gov. Murphy To “Get on the Bus” for a More Equitable NJ Transit & Dedicated Stable Funding
To celebrate Transit Equity Week ahead of NJ Transit’s Board Meeting, Coalition Urges Gov. Murphy To Ride with Bus Straphangers & Provide Increased Funding in the FY24 Budget
Trenton – Ahead of tonight’s NJ Transit Board Meeting, a coalition of transit advocates and bus straphangers commemorated the birthday of Rosa Parks and her contribution to civil rights and transit equity by calling for a more equitable NJ Transit and urged Governor Murphy to “come ride the bus” by joining bus straphangers on a NJ Transit bus ride and to support a transit rider agenda.
“Governor Murphy has an opportunity not only to advance New Jersey’s ambitious climate goals, but to be a champion for environmental justice by properly investing in New Jersey’s transit system,” said Renae Reynolds, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which rolled out a series of Transit Equity Week videos asking Gov. Murphy to come ride the bus. “Investing in public transportation and electrifying our bus fleet are crucial steps the Murphy administration must take towards building a more accessible, more vibrant, and more equitable New Jersey.”
In honor of Ms. Parks, riders and advocates are calling for an equitable public transit system, which includes stable dedicated funding for NJ Transit, an end to the capital to operating NJ Transit budget and Clean Energy Fund raids, expanded bus service and bus fleet electrification and a transit rider bill of rights. Riders and advocates also highlighted delays on the rollout of the New Bus Newark program and the full electric bus rollout in Camden.
“Transit equity remains an unmet goal now for NJ TRANSIT. Our transit ridership has not fully recovered from the pandemic but riders need mobility more than ever – and our transit funding remains precarious. As federal funds won’t be renewed, now is the time to provide stable dedicated funding for NJ TRANSIT and end the lack of investment in our transit system. It’s time for Gov. Murphy to get on the bus, fully fund NJ Transit capital needs in the FY24 budget and end ongoing budget raids,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.
The transportation sector remains the leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey. The majority of NJ TRANSIT buses travel through cities that are home to communities of color, immigrant communities, essential workers, and low-income families. Pollution from buses and other vehicles on the road that travel through these neighborhoods, paired with air already polluted from nearby ports, airports and major highways, has led to a disproportionate number of health risks and concerns for these communities.
“The Ironbound in Newark is an environmental justice community, we have a high cluster of cancer here because of the different industries that we have here. We have one of the largest Superfund sites in the country. The NJ TRANSIT buses are currently run off of diesel buses which further pollute my community. NJ TRANSIT needs to commit and invest in more sustainable solutions that will reduce emissions and are sustainably sourced. We want safe, environmentally sound solutions to make our communities vibrant,” said Tanisha Garner, a NJ Transit straphanger in the Ironbound.
While NJ Transit has received emergency federal funds, the new FY24 budget must still devote increased funding for NJ Transit’s operational and capital needs to move forward with bus fleet electrification, as indicated in the agency’s 5-Year Capital Plan and the 10-Year Capital Plan and satisfy statutory requirements. Once the federal funding expires, we will need increased and dedicated state funding as the emergency funds did not fix the problems that existed prior to the pandemic.
“I believe it is important for lawmakers to take the initiative to ensure the elimination of greenhouse gases by providing initiatives and funding through Senate bills that make it easier to transition our buses and cars from diesel to electric use with stipulated safety regulations; to improve the wheelchair to curb handicap access to/from the bus; a price reduction and to provide shelters with built-in solar panels which provide free lights and seats to keep riders safe, dry and out of the dark on behalf of New Jersey’s residents and businesses,” said Golda D. Harris, a NJ Transit straphanger from Elizabeth.
Straphangers also cited the need for more dynamic bus scheduling to reflect riders needs, which NJ Transit has touted the New Bus Newark program, but has yet to rollout changes.
“A lot of folks have moved to New Jersey over the past decade, including myself and the routes have not been looked at or changed. Look at the fact that you have a bus coming every 30 minutes and 60 people waiting. The bus system should be catered to the ever changing needs of riders, who our system is made to serve,” said Danna Dennis, a NJ Transit straphanger from East Orange.
Riders also cited the lack of mobility in areas of the state with less service – and the impacts on straphangers that are transit dependent.
“The service available in South Jersey is lacking – lack of frequency of buses and multiple transfers to get where you need to go. There are so many residents who depend on NJ TRANSIT for their mobility. South Jersey cannot be forgotten when making these decisions,” said Anthony Lanzilotti, a NJ Transit straphanger from Sicklerville.
NJ Transit has long suffered from underfunding that has led to antiquated and crumbling infrastructure. Through the years, riders and transit workers have withstood higher operating costs due to service cuts. With transit workers and local bus riders keeping the system moving, safety and protection are key to ensure these two groups are not negatively impacted any further due to the global pandemic. Additional state investment and the passing of the Bus Riders’ Bill of Rights (S1158/A1484) is necessary to protect riders and workers.
“The only riders we want on NJ Transit buses are people going to work, school, have fun or run errands not dirty diesel fumes, constant delays, bus breakdowns, fewer routes and less service,” said Amy Goldsmith, NJ State Director, Clean Water Action. “If Governor Murphy took a ride on a crowded bus with regular folk, he would understand it’s not enough to have won a right to sit anywhere on the bus. We’re calling for dignity of service, not luxury items, that all transit riders deserve — like adequate funding without raiding the Clean Energy Fund, electrification of the bus fleet as mandated by state law and reliable service.”
Rosa Parks ignited the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to demand an end to segregation of the Montgomery, Alabama, transit system. As we celebrate the mother of the civil rights movement, we must carry her torch into the 21st century by implementing and enforcing inclusive policies that benefit all commuters and the essential workers who keep trains and buses running. In New Jersey, we can do this by investing in bus fleet electrification to create good bus manufacturing jobs, ensuring safe working environments for frontline workers, providing adequate service, keeping fares affordable, and advancing racial and social equity throughout the state.
“We once again call for the electrification of NJ Transit and full, dedicated funding for operations and improvements. Business as usual is no longer an option. We need to tackle this funding crisis head-on and devise long-term, sustainable solutions. Taking money from the Clean Energy Fund (CEF) to help balance the NJ Transit budget is morally wrong and short-sighted if the state wants to meet its climate goals,” wrote Orlando Riley, chair of the Amalgamated Transit Union NJ State Council in a Star Ledger op-ed printed on Transit Equity Day.
“Everyday millions of people rely on NJ Transit buses and trains to commute to work, school, and other locations critical to their lives,” said Debra Coyle, Executive Director of NJ Work Environment Council. “NJ Transit needs more buses and more routes going to more places, so that all of us have access to mobility, regardless of our income or where we live. We also need a renewed commitment to electrify our buses, as soon as possible, to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change and better air quality that impacts the health riders and our communities.”
“NJ Transit is a crucial part of daily life in New Jersey — connecting people to their work, their doctors, their schools, and more. But years of underfunding have left our biggest public transportation entity in a state of disrepair leading to unreliable service, dangerous operations, and continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels for energy. NJ Transit must be fully funded with its own source of sustainable revenue to keep its services safe, reliable, and affordable for everyone,” said Alex Ambrose, Transportation & Climate Change Analyst, New Jersey Policy Perspective.
“Public transit plays a critical role in New Jersey’s mobility landscape, providing a significant alternative to driving for many people. NJ Transit is the largest lever we can use to not only meet our climate change mitigation goals, but ultimately achieve transportation equity and improve quality of life. To do this, the state has to prioritize the capital investments needed to expand and modernize the system, as well as the operations funding needed to keep it safe, clean, affordable and reliable,” said Kimberly Irby, Policy Manager, NJ Future, who recently wrote an opinion blog piece on the need to dedicate funding to NJ Transit to help New Jerseyans be less car dependent.